BBC Arabic film on collaborators promotes Hamas messaging – part one

BBC audiences recently saw heavy social media promotion of a programme in the ‘Our World’ series that was broadcast on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel under the title “Working for the Enemy”.

“Collaborating with Israel can mean prison or death in Gaza. So why do people do it? Some Palestinians say they’re forced or blackmailed, others believe they’re helping to prevent attacks on innocent people. Israel says recruiting Palestinian agents helps protect its citizens. For Our World, BBC Arabic’s Murad Batal Shishani travels to Israel, and Gaza, to unravel a complex web of desperation and exploitation.”

The ‘documentary’ presented by Murad Batal Shishani (available here) literally opened with a context-free slur that has long been used by anti-Israel campaigners and BBC journalists alike.

Shishani: “It’s been called the world’s largest open prison. The Gaza Strip: penned in by walls, barbed wire and gun turrets. The 1.8 million people living here can only get into Israel with special permission. And even if their lives depend on it, they have to enter through here – the Erez Crossing – the main gateway into Israel. […] This is the story of the desperate choices people have to make. […] It’s the story of how the Israeli state seeks to protect its citizens. […] And of those who now live tortured by shame and regret. […] This is a film about Palestinians who collaborate with the Israeli state: those who work for the enemy.”

Following that introduction, the next four minutes of the film repeatedly and uncritically promoted clips from a video produced by a terrorist organisation.

Shishani: “In May 2017 the ruling Hamas government in Gaza released this video to a shocked public. Some Palestinian men had apparently been caught working for Israel in Gaza. They were explaining how they were recruited. […] Each had been cleverly targeted according to their needs and beliefs. They were then recruited by Israeli agents to kill a senior leader of the Hamas military wing – a man called Mazen Fuqaha.”

As readers may recall when Mazen Fuqaha was assassinated in March 2017, the BBC did not cover the story in English. Hamas immediately blamed Israel for the killing, at one point claiming that the assassins had arrived by sea. The BBC’s English language services also showed no interest in reporting border closures imposed by Hamas following the killing.

In April 2017 the BBC News website correctly reported that “Hamas has offered no evidence that Israel was behind Fuqaha’s death”. In May 2017 the BBC News website reported the executions of three men said by Hamas to have confessed to killing Fuqaha, quoting criticism of the process from an NGO.

“Human rights groups had called on the Islamist movement not to carry out the executions – just two weeks after it announced the arrests and aired videos of what it said were the men’s confessions. […]

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said: “Rushing to put men to death based on an unreviewable decision of a special military court days after announcing their arrests, and airing videoed confessions, smacks of militia rule, not the rule of law.

“Reliance on confessions, in a system where coercion, torture and deprivation of detainee’s rights are prevalent, and other apparent due process violations further taint the court’s verdicts”.”

Nevertheless, BBC Arabic chose to take those video confessions at face value and after a brief sketch of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities during the second Intifada, his imprisonment and his release, Shishani interviewed Hamas’ Mahmoud al Zahar, describing him as someone who “had known Mazen Fuqaha for years”.

Zahar: “They [Israel] thought Fuqaha was active in the West Bank while based in Gaza. Either some Palestinian told them or they had some intelligence.”

Shishani: “And was he active?”

Zahar: “I don’t know.”

Showing no further interest in the topic of Fuqaha’s terrorist activities, Shishani went on to further amplify Hamas’ version of events.

Shishani: “But someone seemed to think Fuqaha was still active. On the 24th of March 2017 this man – Ashraf Abu Leila – received his instructions. He outlined the plan in the Hamas confession video. Hamas officials say that this is Ashraf, caught on CCTV as he walks past the hospital into the yard and towards his target’s parking lot. Fuqaha had spent a family day on the beach. He was alone in his car. The gunman followed him, knocked on his window and shot him five times. Ashraf’s job was done. Hamas had lost one of its key assets and there was an outpouring of grief at Fuqaha’s funeral. Soon after, Ashraf and his suspected accomplices were arrested. In their confessions they warned their audience not to fall for Israeli recruiters. Days after these confessions were filmed all three men were executed as traitors – and as a warning to others.”

Then – after having spent a full four minutes unquestioningly amplifying Hamas’ unproven version of the story – Shishani told viewers that:

Shishani: “We cannot verify the testimonies in the video. Hamas would not share their evidence. But collaborating with Israel is not such a rare thing here.”

With obvious approval and cooperation from Hamas, Shishani next visited a prison in the Gaza Strip where he spoke to one of the “convicted collaborators” called Ibrahim. BBC audiences were once again led towards the erroneous belief that Gaza is under “siege”.

Ibrahim: “Most people who fall into this trap, 90% or more are victims. We in Gaza are suffering from a very harsh siege. Everything is in short supply. Healthcare. Basic needs.

Shishani: “Ibrahim told me that Israeli recruiters prey on the needs of people in Gaza.”

Ibrahim: “They target young men with financial problems and put pressure on them. To start with they say they are not asking for anything serious, just a chat. And then you fall into a bigger trap.”

Shishani: “Who are they targeting?”

Ibrahim: “Firstly it’s those who need medical treatment. This is the biggest problem facing us all. Everyone suffers from this problem. Secondly, it’s people with financial problems and thirdly those who are vulnerable and they turn to drugs.”

Once again – after giving uncritical and extensive amplification to those claims – Shishani ticked the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ box with a one-liner.

Shishani: “The Israeli authorities told us they don’t try to recruit people in these vulnerable situations.”

The next part of Shishani’s film was devoted to the man executed by Hamas for the killing of Mazen Fuqaha – Ashraf Abu Laila.

Shishani: “What could have made a Palestinian like Ashraf kill a leading Hamas militant? And how might the Israeli security forces have found and recruited such a man?”

Quoting an unidentified source described as a “jihadi” – presumably one of Gaza’s Salafists – Shishani told viewers:

Shishani: “Ashraf Abu Laila approached the jihadists, claiming he is a member of the so-called Islamic State but the jihadists rejected him. As a loner, Ashraf might have been easier to control. But would the Israeli security forces really recruit a jihadi – someone dedicated to the violent destruction of Israel? It seemed an extraordinary risk”.

The rest of this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.  

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Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the January 8th edition of ‘Hardtalk (aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio) was devoted to an interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar in which some of the messaging audiences have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.

Throughout the interview Zahar also promoted numerous falsehoods, smears and inaccuracies which went unchallenged by presenter Stephen Sackur – thereby leaving audiences with misleading impressions and false information.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

1) Despite Hamas’ known misappropriation of thousands of tons of building materials intended for the repair and reconstruction of civilian homes damaged during the 2014 conflict and its spending of millions of dollars on tunnel construction and missile production rather than on public services for the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip, Sackur failed to challenge Zahar’s claim that the poor quality of life in Gaza has nothing to do with Hamas “management”.

Zahar: “Yes, our life is very miserable – not because of bad management on our side but because of the crime committed by the Israeli occupation and by the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority with them and lastly by the impact of the international community, represented mainly by Mr Trump, against our human rights in the most important third shrine in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque.”

2) Sackur also refrained from questioning that claim from Zahar that the “human rights” of Muslims at al Aqsa mosque are being abused and failed to clarify to BBC audiences that in fact Muslims alone are allowed to pray there.

3) Zahar’s inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is under “siege” went unchallenged, as did the false allegation that the problems plaguing medical services in the Gaza Strip are the result of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Zahar: “The siege for a long time destroyed our medical, our social, our economic life and nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.”

4) The issue of discrimination against Palestinians in some Arab countries was not raised by Sackur when Zahar mentioned refugee camps and neither was the subject of the deliberate perpetuation of their refugee status.

Zahar: “Add to that our miserable life in the West Bank in addition to the very distress life in the refugee camps outside Palestine, whether in Jordan, especially in Lebanon and Syria. For this reason I think it’s a big crime. It’s a big crime against the Palestinian human rights.”

5) Zahar’s repeated claims of “occupation” since 1948 were not challenged by Sackur even once and neither was his inaccurate characterisation of the British mandate administration.

Zahar [04:00]: “…we are living under occupation since many, many years. Since 1948 they occupied what is now called Israel and after that at ’67.”

Zahar [14:36]: “We are here speaking about national interest. Our interest is our land. Our land well-known occupied at ’48.”

Zahar [19:50]: “Listen, listen: this [Israel] is Palestine. This is Palestine occupied ’48. Occupied by ’48 by the support and by a built by the British occupation.”

6) Zahar’s repeated portrayal of Palestinian terrorism as “self-defence” went unquestioned.

Zahar [04:00]: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”

Zahar [05:36]: “The people in the West Bank have their right to defend themselves by all means. […] We have to defend ourselves by all means in the West Bank in order to avoid the expansion of the settlement not only on Jerusalem but also on the rest of the West Bank.”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are not a terrorist and we are not launching rockets against Israel randomly. But we are defending ourself against the fifth…the Phantom fifty-five. […] You [are] speaking [about] us as we are launching rockets against Israel as terrorist. We are not terrorist. We are freedom fighter.”

Zahar [16:51]: “We practiced as a Palestinian people all the peaceful methods in order to achieve our right as a homeland and now we see no square meter for the Palestinians except Gaza – liberated by armed resistance. […] We are insisting to defend ourself by all means including the armed resistance […] people are admiring to sacrifice [i.e. suicide bombings] in order to achieve their homeland.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Humanitarian aid [from foreign donors] is our right whether we are fighting as a freedom fighter or living in prison.”

Zahar: [21:43] “Why you describe it as violence? This is not a violence. This is one of the methods to have a self-defence.”

7) When Sackur raised the issue of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians, Zahar’s claim that they “are not citizens” [from 05:36] went unchallenged by Sackur, as did his repeated inaccurate and bigoted portrayal of all Israelis as ‘foreigners’ and his portrayal of Israel as a colonial implant for which Europeans are to blame.

Zahar: “First of all these are citizens…are not citizens. These are settler. These people left their homeland from America, from Russia and come. For this reason we are against foreign people took our land, violated our rights.

Zahar [14:36]: “I’m asking just simple question: what moral principle justify Netanyahu to come from America and while his father is still there and to occupy our land? What justified for Lieberman coming from Russia to be in our land?”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are occupied by foreigner, dismissed all through your history. You as European people and Americans are particularly the people responsible about the disaster of the Jews when you destroyed […] the existence of the Jews in your country and dismissed these people to our people as part of the occupation.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Do you believe that your capital [Jerusalem] can be occupied by a foreigner and the price will be material aids [aid]?”

Zahar [19:37]: “It is not a matter of destroying Israel. It is a matter of liberation of our land occupied by a foreigner, by people from America…”

8) Zahar’s repeated airbrushing of the long history of suicide bombings by Hamas and other terror groups went without comment from Sackur.

Zahar [05:36]: “We started by throwing stones, using knife and lastly at a time used guns against the Israeli.”

Zahar [21:43]: “We practice…we practiced all, all methods. Since the occupation we practiced several different self-defence and in the first Intifada we threw stones, we distributed leaflets and we [unintelligible] and the result was more Israeli aggression […] and the people were enforce [forced] at that time to use violence – throwing the stone and after that using knives and after that when they succeed to have guns, they use guns and by these guns the Israelis came from Gaza.”

9) Even Zahar’s dog-whistle remarks concerning Temple Mount produced no reaction from Sackur and at no point was the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians clarified to audiences.

Zahar [14:36] “Our interest is our holy place al Aqsa mosque which is the most important third shrine in Islam, not only for Hamas but for every Muslim – even the British Muslim.”

While there may of course be those who argue that it is useful for BBC audiences to hear the type of extremist views espoused by Hamas straight from their source, the fact that Zahar’s lies, omissions, distortions of history and blatantly bigoted messaging falls on ears which for the most part have a poor understanding of the history of the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should have been reason enough for Stephen Sackur to challenge his remarks and at least set the historical record straight for viewers and listeners.

As we see, that did not happen and so BBC audiences around the world went away having been fed an unhealthy dose of standard Palestinian propaganda that erases Jewish history and portrays Jews as a foreign colonial implant in the region.  

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Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part one

Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part one

On January 8th the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired (not for the first time) a televised interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar on the BBC World News channel and on the BBC News channel.  An audio version of the same interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio and a clip from the interview was promoted separately.

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Mahmoud al-Zahar, co-founder of the Islamist movement Hamas. Donald Trump broke with long established diplomatic convention by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His recent tweets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been music to the ears of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. So what do the Palestinians do now? Hamas controls Gaza and has been at loggerheads with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank for more than a decade. Are the Palestinians staring defeat in the face?”

One noteworthy aspect of that programme was Stephen Sackur’s presentation of terrorism as a matter of conflicting narratives.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “My guest today was one of the co-founders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Mahmoud Zahar became used to the rigours of violent conflict with Israel. He was imprisoned, deported, his home was targeted, family members – including his son killed. But he and his Hamas colleagues remained committed to an armed struggle whose ultimate objective they characterise as the liberation of all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. To Israel, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and Mr Zahar is a terrorist with blood on his hands. To Palestinians he is one player in a prolonged internecine struggle between Fatah – the organisation led for so long by Yasser Arafat – and Hamas.”

And [from 04:56 in the audio version]:

Sackur: “The truth is, since that decision taken by Trump in December on Jerusalem we’ve seen – what? – a dozen or so rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel. The Israelis have responded by targeting weapons dumps. The truth is everything that you talk about in terms of violent military resistance plays into Israel’s hands. It allows them to characterise you yet again as terrorists out to kill Israeli citizens.”

Sackur’s presentation of course would not have surprised anyone familiar with the BBC’s long history of promoting the ‘one man’s terrorist’ narrative that fails to distinguish between means and ends and results in inconsistent BBC reporting on terrorism in differing locations.

Another notable point was Sackur’s adoption of Hamas’ own terminology and his breach [from 20:09] of the BBC Academy’s “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” which, as noted here recently on two occasions, instructs the corporation’s staff not to use the term Palestine except in very specific circumstances.

Sackur: “Is the resistance in Palestine now in the hands of ordinary people – young people particularly – not with veteran leaders like you?”

Viewers and listeners may have noticed that during this interview some of the messaging they have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.

For example, the BBC’s long-standing and repeated claim that the Gaza Strip is occupied even though Israel withdrew from the territory over twelve years ago was contradicted by Zahar [from 04:00].

Zahar: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”

In September of last year the BBC began reporting on Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ and produced a considerable amount of content promoting that topic. However, Zahar dismissed the claim of ‘reconciliation’ proposed by Sackur [from 09:02].

Sackur: “I mean you in Hamas, as of October 2017 – just a few months ago – are committed to a reconciliation agreement with Fatah which is supposed to lead to a reunification of the administration in Gaza and supposed to see Fatah and PA – Palestinian Authority – forces take security control in Gaza. Are you suggesting to me that that deal is now completely off?”

Zahar: “First of all I’d like to address that it’s not a reconciliation. This is a misleading name actually. We in Cairo on 2011 agreed to have a deal and agreement in Cairo. This agreement includes the most important point is to run election for the ministerial level, for the legislative council and for the national council level. And we are dead sure that we are going to win this election. At that time we are going to change the attitude of this authority from cooperating with Israel to the degree as we did with the Israeli in 2005. For this reason we are…”

Sackur [interrupts] “We don’t have time for a long history lesson but the bottom line is just a few months ago you were prepared to talk about a deal with Fatah and Fatah insisted part of that deal would be that you would accept Palestinian Authority security control in Gaza and Hamas would ultimately have to give up its weapons. Are you prepared, in Hamas, as part of a national deal, to give up your weapons?”

Zahar: “It’s not a national deal. It’s between Fatah and other national factions but the Palestinian people in the refugee camps, more than six million people outside, they’ve not shared it. I’m speaking about what is the substantial core of this deal you describe in the last few months. It was implementation of the agreement in Cairo 2011. It’s not a reconciliation.”

Another interesting point arising from this interviewee is the discovery that the BBC does know the purpose of the cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas and other terror organisations – despite its ambiguous description of their purpose in the past.

Sackur: [11:43] “…you’re not prepared – are you? – to give up your weapons based control of the Gaza Strip and your continued determination to fire rockets into Israel and dig tunnels under your territory into Israeli territory in order to conduct terrorist operations inside Israel.”

Last year the BBC amply covered the story of the Hamas policy document published in May with some reports inaccurately describing it as a ‘new’ charter signalling a different approach from the terror group and Yolande Knell, for example, telling BBC audiences that “it really drops its long-standing call for an outright destruction of Israel”. However, when Sackur brought up that topic, Zahar put paid to that claim from Knell.

Sackur [from 18:27] “…in May of 2017 your movement came out with a new policy document. For the first time they…you in Hamas said that you would accept a solution which gave the Palestinians a state on the ’67 lines and it looked as though – with a new leader Mr Haniyah in place – it looked as though Hamas was beginning to search for a way to play a role in the peace process; to become – if I may say so – more moderate. Have you walked away from that now? Are you not interested in being more moderate anymore?”

Zahar: “I’m sorry to understand from you because we are speaking about establishment of an independent state in the area for occupied ’67 but this is the continuation of our argument. But we are not going to denounce a square meter of our land which is Palestine.”

Throughout the interview Zahar was permitted to promote inaccurate claims unchallenged by Sackur, as we will see in part two of this post.

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Superficial BBC Radio 4 reporting on Qatar funding of Hamas

The June 15th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ included an item relating to the ongoing diplomatic rift between Qatar and various other Arab and Muslim majority states.

Presenter Eddie Mair introduced the item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Mair: “Qatar in the Middle East is getting the cold shoulder from many of its neighbours. They accuse Qatar of meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and of supporting terrorism. Saudi Arabia has demanded that Qatar stop supporting Hamas, which controls Gaza – all of which might have quite an effect on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In the past five years Qatar has spent the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pounds building homes, a school, a hospital and main roads in Gaza. Reporting for ‘PM’; our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell now.”

One would of course expect that a report on Qatari funding of Hamas – especially within the framework of the current row between Qatar and other countries – would include clarification of Hamas’ designation as a terror organisation by the EU, the US and numerous additional countries. However, while that obviously relevant context was completely absent from this report by Yolande Knell, listeners did get to hear about the colour scheme at one of Qatar’s building projects.

Knell: “Work is still underway at Sheikh Hamad City; built with money Qatar and named after the country’s former ruler. It’s become one of the best new addresses in Gaza. The apartment blocks here are an attractive peach colour. On the grass there are children playing. They’re from some of the poorer Palestinian families who’ve already moved in here. There’s a new mosque and a new school. But residents like Baha Shalabi [phonetic] are fearful about the crisis between Qatar and other Gulf States.”

Shalabi [voiceover]: “The problems between Saudi Arabia and Qatar will affect us a lot, of course. Everything’s going to stop: the money, the support, the infrastructure. The buildings you see; all of this is going to stop. We’re going to be the victims.”

Knell: “All across this Palestinian territory you can see the effects of Qatari cash. I’m at the edge of a brand new road where cars are whizzing along the coast. Doha’s pledged well over a billion dollars to fix Gaza and while most of its help is humanitarian, it also buoys up Hamas – the Islamist group that seized control here ten years ago.”

After that tepid portrayal of the violent and bloody coup in which Hamas ousted the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people from the Gaza Strip, Knell went on, failing to tell listeners that Qatar is one of the few countries to have recognised and supported Hamas’ regime in Gaza over that of the Palestinian Authority.

Knell: “Until now, the Emir of Qatar is the only head of state to have visited Gaza while Hamas has been in charge. It was a show of regional influence. But today Qatar stands accused of destabilising the Middle East by backing religious extremists – claims it denies. It’s been told to break off ties with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The usually fiery Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar is cautious in his response.”

The terror organisation then got a BBC stage for amplification of its unchallenged messaging.

Zahar [voiceover]: “Qatar was supporting the Palestinian people. The houses that were built are not for Hamas. The streets that were asphalted are not for Hamas. And the schools and hospitals, they’re also for the Palestinian people. All the efforts to hitch Hamas to Qatar are wrong and void.”

Making no effort to clarify to audiences that funding provided by Qatar has also reportedly been diverted to terrorist purposes such as the reconstruction of cross-border attack tunnels or that Qatar pledged funding for Hamas employees, Knell went on with a whitewashed portrayal of Qatar’s recent expulsion of some Hamas officials:

Knell: “Back in Sheikh Hamad City, outside the large Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Mosque, there’ve been rallies in support of Qatar. Meanwhile, some top Hamas figures living in exile in Doha have moved away to ease pressure on their patron.

Knell failed to inform listeners that Hamas operatives based in Qatar have directed terror plots against Israel in the past. She went on:

Knell: “In a new policy document, Hamas tried to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood. So will the Qatari money keep flowing here? I asked Mushir Amar [phonetic] from the Islamic University in Gaza.”

Amar: “The situation is not really very clear. We heard some statements here and there from Saudi Arabia trying to reprimand Qatar for supporting Hamas and Hamas political leadership. They say that we’re not involved in any sort of inter-Arab conflict because this is really not in the best interest of Hamas and this is not in the best interest of the Palestinian people.”

Knell refrained from informing listeners that one of Saudi Arabia’s complaints is that Qatari support for Hamas undermines the Palestinian Authority. She closed her report with a superficial portrayal of the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Knell: “For now, the noise of bulldozers continues at Gaza’s Qatari funded building sites, providing much-needed jobs in this broken economy. But recently, when the local power plant ran out of fuel, Doha didn’t make a donation as it has previously. Palestinians here are trying not to get drawn into a damaging dispute but already they’re feeling its effects.”

Among the public purposes set out in the BBC’s constitutional document is “[t]o provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”. Obviously this superficial report by Knell, with its unchallenged Hamas messaging and its failure to provide basic context and background information, does not serve that purpose.

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